There will be important events during 2015 and, no doubt, significant changes in both state and church. We all know that a general election will take place, and perhaps we may see so-called minor parties receiving a greater influence than could have been imagined a few years ago. The situation in politics that we have been familiar with for a long time may be disappearing.
Such a change should not be surprising, because society, or, if we prefer to call it, national life, is also breaking up into a wide range of interest groups, each wanting to have its beliefs and practices tolerated by everyone else.
Some of those groups have an outlook and aim that is very strongly against the Christian faith, but they can cope with Christianity’s presence as long as it is confined to its own place and does not invade theirs.
Such a radical change in society does create real problems for the church of Jesus, because it cannot be confined to a particular place. By its very nature, the church, when it is faithful to the parting instructions of its Master, has to engage in a policy of invasion into other places, no matter who occupies them. The biblical word for this form of invasion is evangelism.
The first-century church had to evangelise as many difficult places as we do in our divided society. Yet, when it took the gospel into those places, many were glad to be set free from the beliefs and lifestyles that had dominated and deprived them of their dignity as creatures of God.
Of course, they faced hostility from many of those places they invaded, and sometimes were persecuted by those they were trying to set free from sinful circumstances.
Of course, the Christian invasion was very different from all other invasions that had occurred, because it was an invasion dominated by love. It flowed out of grateful love to the Master who had died for them, and it also flowed out of genuine love for those they knew were living in spiritual bondage, whatever the arguments used to keep them there.
We don’t have to go back to the early church to discover that evangelism works. Even on a national level, our history tells us this is the case.
It has long been recognised that England escaped some of the disturbing, almost demonic, influences of European revolutions in the eighteenth century because God blessed the evangelistic efforts of Whitefield, Wesley and countless other evangelists, pastors and laypeople who spread the gospel in one way or another.
Even in the nineteenth century, just as what is called modern science, with its varied emphases that tried to take God out of the picture, threatened the spiritual existence of the church, evangelism was one answer God used to deal with the changes that were occurring.
It’s interesting, from a Christian point of view, that Darwin’s Origin of species was published in 1859, which was also a year of great spiritual revival in Britain, and a revival marked by fervent evangelism.
Given that this change also occurred during a time when cities were booming in population, but not in anything particularly spiritual, it is striking to read of the evangelistic efforts by individuals and churches to bring the gospel to the masses, whether educated or uneducated.
How is the church going to deal with the situation of our contemporary society with all its changes? We can speak about other groups in the comfort of our own places, but they don’t even know we are talking about them.
Or we can shout at them from within the security of our own place, but it is probable that they don’t hear us; or, if they do, they think it is only someone shouting from the sidelines.
Instead we have to take the gospel into their places. This is nothing new, because it is what the early church did, what the nineteenth-century church in Britain did, and what any church growing in a biblical way has done.
I was once asked this question by a concerned Christian: ‘How can our church grow?’ No doubt, we have all faced this question. She was fully aware of the need for prayer and biblical preaching every Lord’s Day, and she had no wish to suggest they were invalid in any way.
Yet she could see that little, if any, progress was being made, and that, if progress did not occur, the congregation she was in would not survive.
At that moment, all I could say was what someone else had said to me, which was that if every Christian in Britain managed with God’s help to bring one unchurched person to his or her church that year, then every church in the country would double in size.
It would be marvellous if that was the major change that happened in Britain during 2015. Of course, it may not work, but we will not know that until we try it.
So it would be good for all of us to pray that God would lead each of us to that one unchurched person who would become members within our congregations by the end of this year.
The author is editor of The Record, the magazine of the Free Church of Scotland.